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QUT professors hit back at ‘incorrect’ reporting on voluntary assisted dying laws

Mainstream media outlets and advocates should avoid “incorrect and misleading” language when discussing the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill currently under debate in Western Australia’s parliament.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 05 September 2019 Big Law
Queensland University of Technology


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Speaking in response to reports in The Australian newspaper that clergy and doctors had claimed the Western Australian bill about voluntary assisted dying laws was a “watered down” version of the laws in Victoria and the draft Queensland bill, two professors from Queensland University of Technology – who wrote the WA bill have hit back, saying references to “death creep” were “both incorrect and misleading”.

The pair singled out comments from Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, who was reported to have said that the White-Willmott model was designed to extend access to those who didn’t qualify for voluntary assisted dying under the Victorian law and WA legislation, covering people with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease”

This is incorrect, said Professor Ben White.


“Under our model, a person can be eligible for voluntary assisted dying only if the person’s condition is incurable, advanced, progressive and will cause death, the person’s suffering is intolerable and enduring [or] the person has decision-making capacity,” he explained.

“Therefore, a person with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease would not satisfy the criteria.”

The emotive term death creep, Professor White continued, was a “novel and inappropriate application of the ‘slippery slope’ argument’.”

“A true slippery slope argument is that legislation is invariably amended so that the criteria for access [are] gradually broadened,” he said.

“This does not apply to Australia where each state will introduce and debate voluntary assisted dying laws independently and autonomously. Each state, in making an independent and autonomous assessment, must consider local conditions and views to determine what is best for their constituents.

“For example, Western Australia has vastly different geography from Victoria, so their law must take into account the availability of health care professionals, a point made by the WA Ministerial Expert Panel.”

It would be inappropriate, Professor White surmised, for Western Australia to adopt a Victoria law “without considering what is best for all Western Australians”.

Professor Lindy Willmott added that terms such as death creep, and references to slippery slopes, were “colourful rhetoric” that obscure more considered thought and debate about the best way to regulate voluntary assisted dying.

“Just because Victoria was the first state to enact voluntary assisted dying laws does not mean it is the only legislative model and any departure from it is on the ‘slippery slope’,” she said.

“For example, as a result of our research, we argue that a prohibition on doctors raising the question of voluntary assisted dying, as contained in the Victorian legislation, impedes the open discussion needed for high-quality, end-of-life care.

“The ‘slippery slope’ argument “improperly creates a default to the status quo”, Professor Willmott argued, and treats any change from that as negative and cause for concern.

“It also stifles open debate about whether law in this area could be improved. We propose an approach based on open debate and careful analysis of each model.

“Each state parliament should identify and reflect on existing models both here and overseas. Each should be reviewed carefully in light of existing evidence and experience with each model, the needs and views of each state’s residents.

“This is the type of debate the important issue of voluntary assisted dying deserves,” she concluded.